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8/10
Terence Fisher's least appreciated Hammer horror
25 August 2019
1959's THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY is easily director Terence Fisher's least known Hammer horror, and one rarely screened until its revival in the 2000s. Shot in gritty black and white rather than the usual color, it foreshadows a similar effort the following year, "The Terror of the Tongs," a star vehicle for Christopher Lee as Hong Kong tong leader Chung King, while this film boasts the underrated George Pastell as the High Priest of the secret cult of Kali, leaving behind millions of victims all garroted by the sacred cloth. Top billed Guy Rolfe ("Mr. Sardonicus") plays Captain Harry Lewis of the British East India Company, who has spent months in 1829 Bombay trying to find answers as to the mysterious disappearances of traveling caravans of various goods robbing the English of their profits (the corpses swiftly and ruthlessly buried in shallow graves). His superior, Colonel Henderson (Andrew Cruickshank), appoints an old school chum as chief investigator rather than Lewis, Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson), a supremely pompous twit who simply conducts interrogations while seated behind his desk. Lewis decides to resign after his manservant, Ram Das (Tutte Lemkow), suffers a terrible fate (his hand cut off and sent to Lewis) while searching for his brother Gopali Das (David Spenser), revealed not only to be the newest recruit to the cult but also tasked to strangle his own beloved sibling. The level of brutality is unprecedented even for Hammer, and all the better for being so effectively rendered, though possibly cut for television. Two careless followers are punished for betrayal to Kali by having their eyes gouged out (we see the eye sockets following the gruesome deed), corpses have their stomachs slit prior to burial, all sadly historically accurate. It looks like curtains for a captive Lewis, staked out under the mercilessly hot sun waiting for a cobra to strike...surprise! He just happens to have brought along his pet mongoose, ably dispatching the venomous reptile, an ill omen that forces the high priest to set Lewis free. It's amazing how tiny Bray Studios could manage to convey far off places when never venturing far from the Thames, their professionalism led by production designer Bernard Robinson, who often lent his own props for a scene (for instance, the huge globe in the Castle Dracula library in "Horror of Dracula").
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8/10
Edward G. Robinson and Boris Karloff
22 August 2019
Warners' "Five Star Final" was among 1931's Best Picture nominees, and a chance for Edward G. Robinson to break away from gangster characterizations in "The Widow from Chicago," "Outside the Law," "Little Caesar," and "Smart Money." Producer Hal B. Wallis painstakingly duplicated the look and exact dimensions of a real newspaper office, the script adapted from the successful Louis Weitzenkorn play, based on an actual scandal sheet called the New York Evening Graphic where the author had worked after leaving the New York Times and New York World. Robinson's Joseph Randall is chief editor of the Evening Gazette, a rag that uses strongarm tactics against vendors who fail to place their paper above all others, more interested in circulation and profit by virtually any means. Randall has spent a number of years in his office, the last four of them with secretary Miss Taylor (Aline MacMahon), secretly in love with her boss and urging him to move on to a decent paper. The hard working and hard drinking Randall obsesses about washing his hands, particularly after encountering the sleazy T. Vernon Isopod (Boris Karloff), a former student who was expelled from divinity school for drunkenness and sexual misbehavior. This coincides with the arrival of Kitty Carmody (Ona Munson), whose attractive figure is enough to earn her a position as reporter, complaining about how Isopod's fervent attentions left her with no skin on her knees! (he winks at her: "you got something in your eye?"). Randall's newest assignment is to revive the 20 year old killing committed by Nancy Voorhees, 'The Love Mad Stenographer,' who shot her boss when he fathered her child but refused to marry her. It is implied that the jury's subsequent acquittal was simply due to the baby, who grew up knowing nothing of her mother's crime and is in fact about to be wed to the son of socialite parents. Nancy (Frances Starr) now goes by the name Townsend, husband Michael (H.B. Warner) willingly throwing away his snobbish family wealth out of love for her, raising her child Jenny (Marian Marsh) as his own. Jenny's impending marriage to Phillip Weeks (Anthony Bushell) is at present unknown to Randall's paper, Isopod insinuating himself into their home posing as a reverend conducting church business, quickly sneaking off with Jenny's photograph and a story of how this 'murderess' is determined to marry off her daughter into a distinguished family. Once the Gazette's Five Star Final hits the streets the Townsends go into a panic, Michael seeking aid from the minister conducting the wedding, while Nancy tries vainly to implore Randall to put down the story for Jenny's sake. Michael returns home to find his wife dead from a suicidal overdose, determined to join her once he concocts a story to get rid of Jenny and Phillip. Randall is stunned by this double tragedy, while Isopod determines to 'comfort' the now orphaned daughter with some financial remuneration, only to shake in his shoes once the distraught girl shows up armed with a pistol to ask: "why did you kill my mother?" Only scenes depicting the overly cute antics of the daughter and her fiancée, plus the unrealistic, over the top reactions from the parents, bring this powerful film down a notch, a thoroughly repellant role fitting Boris Karloff very well, following his previous appearance as a luckless gambler in Robinson's "Smart Money," shooting April 14-May 11, just over three months before "Frankenstein" (he had a credited part in an actual Best Picture, 1927's "Two Arabian Knights"). Marian Marsh debuted as Trilby opposite John Barrymore as "Svengali," moving on to "The Mad Genius" with Karloff, then finally his leading lady in 1935's "The Black Room" (Anthony Bushell had his shot at Boris in 1933's "The Ghoul"). One can spot the pretty Gladys Lloyd (Mrs. Edward G. Robinson) as the publisher's secretary, and Polly Walters earns a few chuckles as the telephone operator speaking in a dead monotone.
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6/10
Ringo Starr adds a second Terry Southern character to his Beatles era resume
21 August 2019
1968's "Candy" marked the first non-Beatles film appearance for Ringo Starr as an actor, nearly lost in a sea of superstar cameos such as Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, and John Astin in dual roles. As Emanuel, the Mexican gardener who deflowers title virgin Ewa Aulin on the pool table (Astin: "wish I'd been there with my Polaroid!"), Ringo is more amusing than those with greater screen time, and in 1969's "The Magic Christian" actually graduates to costar billing with former Goons legend Peter Sellers. The Beatles were great fans of Sellers' Goons, and there's no doubt that this production was a lot more fun for the performers than the unwary viewers who basically shunned it at the time. Director Joseph McGrath assisted Southern on the script, along with Sellers, John Cleese and Graham Chapman (shortly before Monty Python), and the lack of a cohesive narrative may grate on some while others will find the patience to enjoy a few gems among the many gags. Sellers plays Sir Guy Grand, richest man in the world, who meets Ringo's vagrant and takes a paternal interest in his welfare. Renamed 'Youngman Grand' as his adopted son, Ringo joins the tour to educate the masses that everyone has their price, the only question is how much. That's all there truly is, and for some the point is hammered home with unsubtle clarity, all designed to shock and outrage people both on screen and in the audience. Making it more palatable are the numerous cameos from familiar faces, even the John and Yoko lookalikes boarding The Magic Christian, a new ocean liner set to embark from London to America, charging $5000 per guest (this section begins at the 65 minute mark). Laurence Harvey opens with an unlikely performance as Hamlet, stripping nude for less than enthusiastic theatergoers; Dennis Price, Jeremy Lloyd and Peter Bayliss become flummoxed aboard a train ("I've been fired before, but never in Afghanistan!"), David Hutcheson is enraged at the amount of firepower required for 'a good clean kill,' John Cleese and Patrick Cargill earn laughs at Sotheby's, while Graham Chapman's Oxford team follows the lead of coach Richard Attenborough to sabotage the race with Cambridge. The Cruft's dog show finds the contestants devoured by an African black panther disguised as a canine, Spike Milligan's traffic warden gleefully swallows his parking ticket before the offer runs out in 10 seconds, the world heavyweight championship winds down as the two boxers express their affection in the middle of the ring ("the crowd appears to be sickened by the sight of no blood!"). By the time the Christian sets sail most of the stars appear out of nowhere: Christopher Lee speaks a mere six words of dialogue as 'Ship's Vampire,' stalking the corridors all too briefly before attacking Wilfrid Hyde-White's doddering drunken captain; Leonard Frey as Laurence Faggot (pronounced fah-GO) shows off a sample of hemp, then arrests the man he casually hands it to; a silent Roman Polanski is serenaded at the bar by a bewigged Yul Brynner; Raquel Welch as Priestess of the Whip lashes out at intruders who enjoy being masochists. The final sequence was typically cut from all TV prints, as Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air" puts an exclamation point on the proceedings as bowler hatted, umbrella carrying citizens brave a vat filled with blood, urine and animal manure for Grand's advertised 'free money.' Very much a relic of its time, this marriage of the Goons and The Beatles earned little regard from critics but continues to gain a following for its cultural importance. From the beginning the soundtrack found favor with three tracks produced by Paul McCartney and performed by Apple band Badfinger, "Come and Get It" (written by Paul and heard throughout), "Carry on Till Tomorrow" (heard over the opening credits), and "Rock of All Ages" (heard briefly on two occasions), all issued on the first official Badfinger LP MAGIC CHRISTIAN MUSIC in January 1970. The two stars are a good match, already good friends well before filming started in February 1969, though the picture continued the Sellers box office losing streak that only ended with a revival of the Pink Panther series. At the urging of new manager Allan Klein Ringo kept the Apple film division going over the next few years, playing a supporting villain in the Spaghetti Western "Blind Man," directing the T. Rex concert feature "Born to Boogie," and producing "Son of Dracula," casting Harry Nilsson as Count Downe (he'd just released his album SON OF SCHMILSSON dressed as Dracula on the cover). Christopher Lee enjoyed meeting all four Beatles on the set and later appeared on the front cover of Paul's acclaimed Wings LP BAND ON THE RUN.
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5/10
Barking up the wrong tree
19 August 2019
The growing cult of 1957's "From Hell It Came" is based on the simple fact that this is one awful movie that literally grows on you one branch at a time; dare I say it, its bark is worse than its bite? From the same Milner brothers responsible for 1955's "The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues," their cinematic farewell at least boasts a monster devised by the busy Paul Blaisdell, whose creations adorned entries from producers such as Alex Gordon ("The She-Creature," "Voodoo Woman") or Roger Corman ("Day the World Ended," "It Conquered the World"), actor Chester Hayes inside the bulky suit. This 71 minute marvel set on a South Sea island inhabited by white actors in dark makeup kicks off with the execution of Kimo (Gregg Palmer), whose friendship with the American scientists aiding his people's battle against radioactive fallout from atomic testing now results in his death. The ceremonial dagger is hammered into his heart, but not before he vows revenge from the grave against the three deceptive enemies who falsely condemned him. 49 year old ingenue Linda Watkins as the two-time widow can't rouse the two scientists out of their wooden stupor, but the arrival of pretty blonde doctor Terry Mason (Tina Carver) does help Dr. William Arnold (Tod Andrews) spring a woody of his own (naturally finding time to interrupt the girl in her shower). Were it not for Terry we would never have seen Kimo's vengeance, as she suggests uprooting the stump growing out of his grave, seemingly alive withn a beating heart, brought to full walking life with an injection of serum. If one has the audacity to come up with such an outrageous idea you'd better answer with something that at least looks memorable, and the Tabonga is certainly that, described by the natives as a 'tree monster,' complete with perpetual scowl and fixed bulging eyes (looking like an apple orchard reject from "The Wizard of Oz"), finally up and walking at the 43 minute mark, claiming only its three intended victims before deciding to menace the very doctor who gave it life (alas, her pitiful scream leaves much to be desired). So popular is this item that the blog features over 20,000 responses on this film alone (not even "King Kong," let alone Karloff or Lugosi can boast such devotion). The Tabonga even turns up in a later Allied Artists release from 1959, "Arson for Hire," but was apparently thrown out afterwards, so much for his family tree. Tod Andrews may not be a name genre buffs will recognize, but as 'Michael Ames' he'd already appeared in two Bela Lugosi Monograms from 1944, "Return of the Ape Man" and "Voodoo Man," I always lumped this in with "The Disembodied," another South Seas mélange of menace, which was actually its original co-feature from Allied Artists in 1957 (there was another entry in the tree monster sweepstakes, if one includes a passel of them in 1965's "The Navy vs. the Night Monsters").
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2/10
Fits Peter Lorre's improvisational style best though Karloff is a delight
17 August 2019
One would hope that in combining the talents of Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre in a horror comedy styled after Karloff's current Broadway sensation ARSENIC AND OLD LACE it should result in a better film than "The Boogie Man Will Get You," last of the five 'Mad Scientist' vehicles for Boris at Columbia from 1939 to 1942 (all were included in SON OF SHOCK). Producers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse would not allow Karloff to reprise his cherished Jonathan Brewster opposite Lorre in the Frank Capra movie version (Warners nixed their idea of borrowing Humphrey Bogart to temporarily replace him!), so Boris remained in New York as Raymond Massey essayed the part instead. Columbia's attempted cash in arrived some nine months later, and must have seemed a pretty poor crumb indeed by comparison, despite offering the actor a more lighthearted rendition of his stock mad scientist as Prof. Nathaniel Billings, merely trying to preserve life by transforming unwary salesmen into supermen who will never age and be able to fly on their own as perfect weapons against the Axis. He conducts these experiments in a basement laboratory in the old Billings lodge dating back to 1775, with a housekeeper who imagines herself an egg laying hen (Maude Eburne), and a handyman who lives with pigs (George McKay). Among this menagerie arrives pretty Winnie Slade (Jeff Donnell) and her ex-husband (Larry Parks), trying to adjust to a new career running this old tavern as a hotel; add a would be choreographer (Don Beddoe), a powder puff salesman with an inferiority complex (Maxie Rosenbloom), and an inept anarchist (Frank Puglia), all the ingredients for cinematic disaster. Only Peter Lorre provides the saving grace as Dr. Arthur Lorencz, who performs all the functions of this tiny New England community, terminating the Billings mortgage with Winnie's unlikely cash payment before playing sheriff when he looks into the professor's murderous activities (it's all right so long as he can turn a profit by it). All ends well for everybody in a way, as none of the corpses actually stay dead, the whole soufflé collapsing in a heap after an hour of cloddish behavior. Karloff proves a delight though Lorre's improvisational style suits the nonsensical surroundings best, it's just the other characters that wear out their welcome in no time. '(Miss) Jeff Donnell' was an underrated actress who brightened a number of the studio's pictures over the following decade, but Boris was now finished with Harry Cohn, not returning to Hollywood until ARSENIC's run concluded in the spring of 1944 (my rating is 2 stars, one for each chuckle).
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The Black Cat (1934)
9/10
Karloff and Lugosi, plus an unbilled John Carradine
13 August 2019
After the massive success of both "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" helped save Universal from the Depression crisis of 1931-32 it was only a matter of time before their two iconic stars finally worked together in the same film. 'Karloff' (as the actor would be billed for the first of five times, all for Universal) had been away from the studio since 1932's "The Mummy," the Laemmles failing to honor his promised pay raise, while 'Lugosi' had gone missing even longer, since the failure of his lone follow up to "Dracula," "Murders in the Rue Morgue," emerging triumphantly from bankruptcy waiting for the next offer from Uncle Carl. By February 1934 the stars had aligned to team the genre legends in what promised to be a duel to the death between Karloff's Austrian architect Hjalmar Poelzig and Lugosi's Hungarian psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast in "The Black Cat," the brainchild of recently signed director and production designer Edgar G. Ulmer. Junior Laemmle indulged the young maverick with his bold Bauhaus blueprint for the Poelzig residence, hardly the cobwebbed, crumbling castle of Gothic legend but a spotless modern home with doors that slide open, and the space to shelter a cult of devil worshippers in service to High Priest Poelzig. Bela's Werdegast refers to Poelzig as 'an old friend' to American mystery author Peter Alison (David Manners) and newlywed bride Joan (Jacqueline Wells), having spent 15 years in a Siberian prison during the Great War only to emerge with renewed hope of finding his lost wife and daughter. Far from being a 'friend,' Poelzig had been a traitor to the cause at Fort Marmaros, selling out to the Russians and allowing one of the 'great battlefields of the war' to be strewn with thousands of corpses, now living at the same location in an abode of his own architectural creation. Werdegast has followed the trail here, forced to make an unexpected call upon Poelzig after a road accident in the rain results in a dead bus driver and wounded Joan Alison. The Majordomo (Egon Brecher) announces this untimely arrival and we see Karloff for the first time, rising in his private bedchamber, straight up like a vampire from his coffin, remaining silent much of the time while observing others with sardonic intent. Since the next Satanic orgy takes place the following evening Poelzig is quite entranced by the virginal Mrs. Alison (she covers herself up from one of his sidelong glances), having preserved the corpses of numerous female sacrifices over the years...including the wife of Vitus Werdegast, with whom he was also wed (and, perversely, has subsequently married the woman's daughter). In his quest for vengeance Werdegast must tread lightly on his enemy's home turf, victimized by ailurophobia (Poelzig: "an intense and all consuming horror of cats"), instructing his servant Thamal (Harry Cording) to serve the master, and finally demanding the whereabouts of his wife. In revealing the horror of her fate Poelzig also succeeds in luring the psychiatrist into a trap, the sight of a black cat preventing Werdegast from shooting his foe ("are we any less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder, are we not both the living dead?"). Poelzig also claims victory in a chess game for the life of Joan Alison, a prisoner until the evening's unholy festivities, meeting Madame Poelzig (Lucille Lund), the daughter of Vitus Werdegast, instantly earning her husband's wrath and paying a fatal price. One unknown actor in a mustache playing a tall cult member can be spotted as Karloff descends the staircase, seen on the left with his back to the camera, then walking behind Boris before seating himself at the organ, his hands and the back of his head shown close up; this was the third Universal title for John Carradine, granted a few lines in both "The Invisible Man" and "Bride of Frankenstein" but unfortunately silent here. With the helpless Joan unconscious on the altar, Poelzig is only distracted by a scream from one exuberant female, allowing Werdegast and Thamal to abscond with her for escape through the cellar. Peter Alison is already armed and able to defend his bride, who manages to inform the doctor of his daughter's fate from a few hours before, Poelzig intent on a final showdown from which no one shall survive. The sight of a half naked Karloff held captive upon his own rack as Lugosi prepares to flay him alive (depicted in shadow of course) amazingly reached the screen intact, one of the last pre-code titles to escape relatively unscathed from censorship trauma though Uncle Carl himself was appalled, at least until the box office rang loud and clear. Initially reluctant to return to horror after acclaimed performances in John Ford's "The Lost Patrol" and George Arliss' "The House of Rothschild," Boris Karloff was enamored with the opportunity to portray such a repulsive character in silky clothes and offbeat prowling demeanor, he never played another quite like it. For Bela Lugosi this Karloff villain enabled him to finally essay a heroic role, followed closely by the lead in the Sol Lesser serial "The Return of Chandu" (doing the same in "The Invisible Ray"), and even Mrs. Bela Lugosi exalted in his performance: "God he was beautiful in that!" (seven years passed before another Universal title "The Black Cat" cast Bela as a caretaker in an old dark house, but in a comedic setting). Incredibly, Universal's biggest hit of the entire year was also the one with the lowest budget, yet Edgar G. Ulmer was already banished prior to release due to his devotion to future wife Shirley, at the time newly wed to a Laemmle, working essentially on Poverty Row for much of the rest of his days, even starring John Carradine in PRC vehicles "Isle of Forgotten Sins" and "Bluebeard."
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4/10
A showcase for Don Sullivan
11 August 2019
1959's "The Giant Gila Monster" served as half a regional double bill with another Ken Curtis production, "The Killer Shrews," produced by Dallas radio legend Gordon McLendon's Hollywood Pictures Corporation. Still five years away from becoming a regular as Festus on the long running GUNSMOKE, Curtis was still known as mostly a singer with the Sons of the Pioneers, and cast another Pioneer in this minor effort, Shug Fisher, keeping his usual stutter in check in providing some drunken comic relief. With special effects expert Ray Kellogg at the helm one wishes for a little horror relief, but the titular creature, a Mexican beaded lizard, never interacts with cast members and moves too slowly to even work up enough tension for the climax (location shooting in Cielo, Texas). It really works best as a showcase for top billed Don Sullivan, previously the hero in Jerry Warren's 1957's "Teenage Zombies" and Irwin Berwick's 1958 "The Monster of Piedras Blancas," both of which had yet to see release by the time this one was in the can (he only had two more credits after 1959, using his degree from the University of Idaho to become 'one of the top creative cosmetics chemists in the hair industry'). Not only does he carry the film with a natural, unforced performance, he also composed and sang all three tunes as well, which not too many aspiring actors could accomplish on a low budget picture. As Chase Winstead, resident mechanic in a small Texas town (taking care of both his mother and a little sister afflicted with polio), Chase pretty much also looks after 'the gang,' and when a couple disappears he finds their wrecked car with no sign of blood. Sheriff Jeff (longtime Western veteran Fred Graham) is pressured into finding out what happened, but apparently the only folks who actually spot the overgrown iguana become lizard lunch meat. A few platters spin on the turntable, a little dancing, singing, pounding out the spare parts for drunks, it's not such a bad view were it not intended as a sci/fi movie, and Lisa Simone's accent grates on the ears (she too had a very short career, after losing as French contestant for Miss Universe 1957). The budget was $15,000 higher than "The Killer Shrews," a double bill that still enjoys cult status today (Ken Curtis passed away in 1991, Don Sullivan in 2018).
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9/10
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1966
8 August 2019
1957's "Night of the Demon" was shot in England by a Hollywood director (Jacques Tourneur), producer (Hal E. Chester, "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms"), and star (Dana Andrews). Emerging the same year that Hammer introduced color to their distinctive brand with "The Curse of Frankenstein," this was a serious take on witchcraft and black magic, in the understated Val Lewton style Tourneur became noted for on RKO pictures such as "Cat People," "I Walked with a Zombie," and "The Leopard Man." The screenplay was the work of Charles Bennett, an early collaborator of Alfred Hitchcock now working in tandem with Irwin Allen, quite the last truly exceptional piece with his name attached, owning the rights to M.R. James' original story "Casting the Runes," alternate titles "The Haunted" and "The Bewitched" (had it been made in Hollywood the lead could have been played by Robert Taylor or Dick Powell). Both writer and director were livid with Chester's changes to the final script, namely showing the demon in all its glory and fairly early on as well, but even so it remained a character driven piece building a sense of dread and inevitability for the one man who all his life scoffed at the supernatural, intentionally walking under ladders and such. Professor Henry Harrington (Maurice Denham), in a very agitated state, calls upon Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) to prevent a dire appointment from taking place at 10:00, now choosing not to expose Karswell's circle of devil worshippers, and that he won't confide in professional skeptic John Holden (Dana Andrews) when he arrives from America. Karswell assures him there's nothing to worry about but it's too little, too late; we see a curious cloud form in the darkness, flapping sounds like that of a gigantic bat, the terrified Harrington backing out of his garage into a power line certain to be electrocuted, yet what remains of his corpse was mutilated to a much greater extent. John Holden learns of the sudden death, meeting Harrington's concerned niece Joanna (Peggy Cummins), and eager to expose a man he believes to be just another charlatan. A chance meeting in the library allows the unassuming Karswell to introduce himself, for the express purpose of ensuring that Holden meets the same fate as Harrington, passing on a small parchment with ancient runic symbols written on it, having deciphered their meaning to place a fatal hex upon his enemies. Once the paper is passed on to the victim without his knowledge and is reduced to ashes by any means, there is no escape from the demon's wrath, taking place in exactly three days. Holden calls upon Karswell at his sprawling estate, finding the portly mama's boy genuinely fond of children yet still a man filled with fear, demonstrating his powers by whipping up a sudden windstorm. His elderly mother (Athene Seyler) does what she can for the nonbeliever, but as time edges closer to the appointed hour it isn't long before Holden's grasp of reality is changed forever, particularly after a midnight visit leads to a terrifying encounter in the dark woods. The climax on the train was certainly worthy of Hitchcock, Joanna's presence under hypnosis, Karswell for obvious reasons reluctant to accept anything proffered by Holden, the unexpected intervention of Scotland Yard proving surprisingly helpful to our beleaguered protagonist. The stone face of Dana Andrews did not lend itself well to this particular role, but Niall MacGinnis was a fantastic actor who occasionally dabbled in the genre and often worked with Peter Cushing: "Hamlet," "Alexander the Great," "Sword of Sherwood Forest" (playing Friar Tuck opposite Richard Greene's Robin Hood and Cushing's Sheriff of Nottingham), "The Man Who Finally Died," "Island of Terror," and "Torture Garden," plus the episode "Jack the Ripper" for Boris Karloff's THE VEIL, "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure," Hammer's "Never Take Candy from a Stranger," "The Devil's Agent," (Christopher Lee), "Jason and the Argonauts," and Hammer's "The Viking Queen." His Julian Karswell isn't your average ordinary Satanist (James based the character on Aleister Crowley), a man who has earned his vast grounds and power through inflicting fear upon others, determined to maintain his status quietly without public exposure or risk being 'hoist with his own petard.' He's clearly the film's villain yet he started out as a magician using white magic for children, passing out candy and puppies from his hat, and his mother is especially gratified to help on these occasions; but once he translates the ancient runic symbols he proves just as terrified with the evils unleashed as his enemies. Among the few occult classics that popped up the only other comparable entries are 1962's "Night of the Eagle," a similar tale centered on another noted skeptic, and Hammer's 1967 adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's "The Devil Rides Out," Christopher Lee the hero, Charles Gray the villain.
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Before I Hang (1940)
5/10
A weary Karloff gives his all
6 August 2019
Seven of the 11 Columbia titles included in 1958's SON OF SHOCK all starred Boris Karloff, with 1940's "Before I Hang" the third of his five 'Mad Doctor' entries that concluded his run at the almost Poverty Row studio of hardheaded Harry Cohn (shooting title "The Wizard of Death"). After decent outings in "The Man They Could Not Hang" and "The Man with Nine Lives," this one opens with a direct statement in the courtroom without the preamble from prior efforts, Karloff's elderly, white haired Dr. John Garth convicted of murder in the eyes of the law, but only to end the suffering of a terminal patient dying from 'the ravages of old age.' Garth has dedicated years of research to finding a serum that could effectively reverse the process and thereby possibly achieve immortality, a mixture of certain chemicals with the blood of the individual. Sentenced to hang in only a few weeks, the despairing doctor is stunned by a request from prison physician Dr. Ralph Howard (Edward Van Sloan), allowed by Warden Thompson (Ben Taggart) to actually continue his research in what little time remains with Howard's assistance. A possible breakthrough emerges, Dr. Howard agreeing to use the blood of a soon to be executed killer for their serum, a three time murderer whose body will not be affected by hanging (thankfully not fried in the electric chair). On his fateful last day Garth must be the guinea pig to be injected with his own serum to learn the results before time expires, after which a reprieve from the governor commutes his sentence to life imprisonment, enough for him to collapse into a coma lasting several hours, his violent reactions requiring a strait jacket due to shock. He awakens to the friendly face of Dr. Howard, and the gradual realization that his body shows evidence of being at least 20 years younger, his hair merely streaked with grey rather than completely white as before. It is naturally assumed that Garth's serum is now a success and Dr. Howard volunteers to be next in line for inoculation, but watches the strange behavior displayed by this new, younger Garth, a difficulty in focusing and pain on the left side of his neck. Garth is unable to resist a homicidal urge under the murderous influence of the dead killer's 'bad blood,' using a handkerchief to strangle Dr. Howard before the intervention of janitor Otto Kron (Frank Richards), who winds up being blamed for Howard's death and attacking the presumably defenseless Garth. Unable to recall the circumstances of the attack, his recovery speeds along with another surprise, released from prison to return home to devoted daughter Martha (Evelyn Keyes) and former lab assistant Paul Ames (Bruce Bennett), but he is clearly a changed man, no longer sharing his love for Martha and thoroughly obsessed with using his serum on his three closest friends, all of whom reject being inoculated for religious reasons. Driven insane by impulses beyond his control, Garth's attempts to inject his piano playing confidante (Pedro de Cordoba) result in another strangulation, and it's not long before the police come knocking at his door, still more tragedy ahead as he succumbs to the very thing for which he was convicted. By this third series take it looks like the familiar tropes are starting to run dry, the first half moving with efficiency but the second half dragging in repetition to an entirely predictable conclusion. Karloff is forced to resort to a series of sinister asides and reaching for the back of his neck to convey his character's torment, very little to work with on this occasion (both the weeping Evelyn Keyes and Bruce Bennett draw a total blank despite close proximity to the lead character). Every time he tried to suggest improvements on the scripts he would be told that the profit margins were identical whether the pictures came out well or not; fortunately "The Devil Commands" would break from the first three and provide a suitably eerie vehicle on which to leave Hollywood for Broadway's ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. This marked the actor's final happy reunion with Edward Van Sloan, his old costar from "Frankenstein," "Behind the Mask" and "The Mummy," comrades working in tandem for a common goal rather than adversaries in opposition
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3/10
Nasty foreign influences on dedicated British scientist, or something
5 August 2019
1957's "Womaneater" (one word) was such an underwhelming British effort that it took a couple of years to cross the Atlantic, a rare starring role for George Coulouris, whose career had kicked off with the sublime "Citizen Kane," only to sink to the Grade-Z level of "The Man Without a Body" (from the same director, Charles Saunders), Richard Gordon's "Tower of Evil," even Italian rip offs such as 1974's "The Antichrist." His mad scientist is given the generic name of Doctor Moran, believing that life can be restored to the dead through a serum requiring fluid from a plant god worshiped by a tribe of Incas in the Amazon, Tanga (Jimmy Vaughan) returning with Moran to England as its caretaker. It's an odd and rather disgusting idea to feature a carnivorous tree that demands the soft flesh of pretty young maidens, and didn't work much better for Cameron Mitchell's "Maneater of Hydra" a decade later, nor one that devoured nude couples in 1972's "Please Don't Eat My Mother." On the rare occasions when we see it in action its tendrils reach out for each victim, a visual predecessor for those familiar with Roger Corman's 1981 "Galaxy of Terror," its slimy maggot creature raping its buxom female target (Taaffe O'Connell). Apart from that disquieting effect it's a substandard love story between a garage mechanic and an out of work carnival girl (Vera Day), she applying as housekeeper for Doctor Moran, to the envy of his former lover and head housekeeper Margaret Santor (Joyce Gregg). This jealousy angle was rehashed with Michael Gough as an oversexed mad scientist in 1961's "Konga," not very interesting on that occasion either, and the local police prove to be absolutely clueless when it comes to searching for missing girls. The evil foreign influence represented by Tanga became a staple in British titles like "The Plague of the Zombies," "The Reptile," and Peter Cushing's "The Ghoul." There's little for any actor to sink his teeth into, Coulouris coming off as restrained in comparison to the lip smacking Gough, and by the time Columbia picked it up it slipped out on the bottom half with Toho's lively, colorful and gruesome "The H-Man."
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8/10
John Carradine's increased role as Dracula, Lon Chaney's Universal farewell
3 August 2019
By the close of 1945 the Second World War was at an end and Universal was ready to merge with William Goetz's International Pictures the following year. Although a half dozen more horror efforts still creeped out afterwards, "House of Dracula" marked the last stand for the studio's classic monsters, the fourth outing for Lon Chaney's Wolf Man, second for John Carradine's Dracula aka Baron Latos, and second for Glenn Strange's ill used Frankenstein Monster, sadly bringing up the rear again in swift, stumbling fashion. A dying Lionel Atwill was also a welcome presence in his final feature, only the serial "Lost City of the Jungle" still ahead before his death from bronchial cancer just six months later (his condition betrayed by an audible off screen cough). Boasting the same director (Erle C. Kenton), producer (Paul Malvern), and screenwriter (Edward T. Lowe) as the previous year's "House of Frankenstein," one can't help but miss the Karloff presence but The Lonster, fully aware that his starring days at Universal were now over, turns in a particularly melancholy performance as Talbot, and still supremely savage in two Wolf Man scenes (resulting from a shortage of yak hair), a grand transformation in Atwill's jail cell and final attack on Onslow Stevens' Dr. Franz Edlemann in the cavern. Carradine's Dracula enjoys twice the screen time that he had in "House of Frankenstein," and displays his evil cunning in forcing his contaminated blood into Eldemann's veins (it's a shame that with his coffin exposed, this vampire proves only too easy to dispatch). The main advantage over its predecessor is Carradine's expanded role, from a self contained vignette to a more integral presence until the 41 minute mark, quite fitting since this was supposed to be Dracula's House...and though it was uncharacteristic of him to seek treatment for his vampiric condition, his observation of pretty Miliza confirmed it was merely a clever ruse to gain access to the castle as no vampire can cross a threshold unless he is invited (of course that fails to explain how his coffin got into the basement!). Shortchanged even more than before is Glenn Strange, who remains comatose until required for the climax, and can only strike down one lousy constable before a chemical fire conveniently destroys the lab and all around it, utilizing stock footage of Chaney's Monster from "The Ghost of Frankenstein" (a single shot of Boris from "Bride of Frankenstein" pops up during the Edlemann hallucination). Leftovers they may be but were it not for Abbott and Costello this would have been a somewhat bittersweet farewell to the original Frankenstein series, a long way from James Whale's nightmarish vision of 1931.
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8/10
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1966
2 August 2019
At the start of SHOCK! in the fall of 1957 many viewers were actually treated to Bela Lugosi's Monster before they ever encountered the Karloff original, while Lon Chaney improved upon "The Wolf Man" with what many (including this author) consider his finest performance from all the Universal horrors in the 1943 release "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man." More a sequel to "The Wolf Man" than a continuation of the further adventures of The Monster, screenwriter Curt Siodmak making a slight yet telling change to his poem from the year before: instead of 'the autumn moon is bright' it is now 'the moon is full and bright.' Closeups of Lugosi in various expressions alternate with long shots of the stuntmen, generally considered to be Gil Perkins for Bela and Edwin Parker (with dimpled chin) for Lon, the epic battle lasting little more than two minutes yet even for those who never saw it as children it still holds a certain fascination as no monsters interacted in "House of Frankenstein" and "House of Dracula." It's nice to see Dwight Frye announcing the imminent destruction of the nearby dam, all of Vasaria's problems swept away until Boris Karloff's ringmaster comes to town for the next go round. Chaney is so in tune with his role that he even evokes the pleasant memory of 'gentle giant' Lennie Small from "Of Mice and Men," wearing a cowboy hat while driving the horse drawn carriage with Maria Ouspenskaya. The character would be reduced in stature over his next two performances, only two transformations apiece and a great deal of tired hand wringing. Even worse will be the fate of The Monster, Lugosi's interpretation granted dialogue by Siodmak as he groped from scene to scene, bemoaning his ailing situation while dreaming of world domination; all of his lines were erased from the soundtrack (for the better), leaving only a spasmodic replica of what was intended, no fault of the actor but still the recipient of Universal's scorn, only returning for his beloved Dracula in 1948's "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Director Roy William Neill ("The Black Room") manages to keep things relatively serious despite Siodmak's shortcomings (mostly his shameless mistreatment of The Monster), a necessity since the climax deserves to be seen to be believed. As an adult one is tempted to laugh at Chaney's facial expressions after Lugosi's Monster tosses him aside time after time, yet somehow it plays absolutely straight and to this day remains as cherished as the late Paul Naschy's lifelong inspiration deserves to be.
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The Maze (1953)
3/10
Frustration is the word that comes to mind
29 July 2019
Closely following the color epic "Invaders from Mars," director William Cameron Menzies shot 1953's "The Maze" in 3-D at Allied Artists, formerly Poverty Row Monogram, his last behind the camera. There are a few trick shots to demonstrate depth early on but it's certainly not in the same league as "House of Wax," a very low budget black and white feature whose sole interest is among the cast. As Gerald McTeam, from a long line of Scottish nobility known to die young, Richard Carlson's upcoming nuptials are called off after he learns of the death of his uncle at Craven Castle, his ancestral home. His intended bride (Veronica Hurst) and her aunt (Katherine Emery) are essentially the stars, arriving unexpectedly to see Sir Gerald now looking years older and decidedly unreceptive to having guests. Endless padding of identical talking head scenes drag the picture out to a merciless 80 minutes, far too long for patient viewers to be rewarded by what even then was a solution that invited ridicule (worst of all is the titular maze, barely featured at all). Foreboding manservant William is played by Australian Michael Pate, a Universal veteran from "The Strange Door," "The Black Castle" and "Curse of the Undead" (as the vampire gunslinger), while bottom billed Robin Hughes essayed the headless title role of Universal's "The Thing That Couldn't Die," then portrayed 'the Devil himself' opposite John Carradine in the memorable TWILIGHT ZONE "The Howling Man." For the likable Carlson it's a nothing role that requires a permanent scowl which the audience might understandably adopt by movie's end.
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7/10
Chilling story of frozen therapy from Boris Karloff again at his best
27 July 2019
1940's "The Man with Nine Lives" continues Columbia's Boris Karloff quintet of 'Mad Doctor' entries, all included in the 1958 SON OF SHOCK television package of 20 classics, 11 from Columbia, only 9 from Universal. Even the name for Karloff, Leon Kravaal, closely echoes Henryk Savaard from previous entry "The Man They Could Not Hang," similar working titles "The Man Without a Face," "The Man Who Would Not Die," and "Behind the Door." Cryogenics had not yet been coined at the time, so 'frozen therapy' is represented in the less than capable hands of Roger Pryor as Dr. Tim Mason, using a multitude of ice cubes and blowing fans to effect a hopeful cancer cure, using warm blankets and hot coffee as a simple way of revival. The unwanted publicity sends him on an unexpected vacation to locate the home of his pioneering predecessor Leon Kravaal, who mysteriously disappeared a decade before, along with several visitors who paddled across the lake to his laboratory and were never seen again. Within minutes of entering the deserted house Dr. Mason and his nurse Judith Blair (Jo Ann Sayers) not only find a hidden stairway taking them hundreds of feet below to an icy cavern (built over the remains of a glacier near the Canadian border), but they discover Kravaal himself frozen in time yet still alive. Kravaal is astonished to learn that ten years have passed since his encounter with the disbelieving authorities: Bob Adams (Stanley Brown), the foolhardy youth who insists that the doctor has killed his dying uncle, eager to collect his millions; District Attorney John Hawthorne (John H. Dilson), Sheriff Stanton (Hal Taliaferro), and coroner Bassett (Byron Foulger), all thoroughly convinced that Jasper Adams must be dead in his frozen solid state (he lived long enough to die a short distance away, alone and unattended). Kravaal prepares a serum with which he threatens to kill his persecutors, only for them to survive their icy tomb after breathing the protective fumes. Once all have been safely restored to life Kravaal reveals the formula that he inadvertently succeeded in finding after years of trial and error, only for the grasping Adams to burn the paper in a fit of pique. Armed with the sheriff's gun Kravaal decides to use the others as guinea pigs to recover the secret that was stolen from him, with Dr. Mason a reluctant assistant. Thoroughly unconvincing as a humanitarian doctor after playing the smarmy DA in "The Man They Could Not Hang," Roger Pryor also has the misfortune of carrying the first two reels on his own before Boris finally makes his entrance. Luckily he doesn't let us down, virtually the sole focus once revived, a far cry from taking a back seat to Stanley Ridges in Universal's "Black Friday," somehow able to vary each Columbia scientist in subtle but effective ways. Despite taking a dark turn with his captive audience, Kravaal's research and techniques are lauded in the final scene, a better conclusion for this character than Savaard's suicide in the previous entry.
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4/10
Dickie Owen as Ra-Antef
26 July 2019
This sequel to Hammer's 1959 Terence Fisher original brings back three cast members for lesser roles this time around (George Pastell, Michael Ripper and Harold Goodwin) but lacks the star power of Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee (it was issued as the second feature on a double bill with "The Gorgon"), and with Michael Carreras at the helm from his own script this picture shapes up as one of Hammer's lesser lights. The discovery of the tomb of Pharaoh Ra-Antef also reveals a curse placed upon those who were present to break the seal, including Alexander King (Fred Clark), Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim), and John Bray (Ronald Howard, son of actor Leslie Howard). At least two corpses are left behind in Egypt when the mummy and all its relics are shipped to London (Michael Ripper thrown away in a tiny bit), where wealthy scholar Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan) offers lodgings for both Bray and Annette Bubois (Jeanne Roland), whose father was recently murdered by religious zealots. Annette finds herself attracted to Beauchamp, relating the story behind the death of Ra-Antef, ambushed by assassins hired by his younger brother who cut off his hand as proof that the deed was done. The mummy itself does not walk until 53 minutes have elapsed, breaking up the lengthy exposition by taking out King in a well done sequence in the fog, after authorities scoffed at the mummy's curious disappearance. Fortunately things move quickly from then on, with even George Pastell (1959's high priest) not spared a gruesome demise by the wrath of Ra-Antef, played by stuntman Dickie Owen in a distinctly unimposing makeup job by Roy Ashton (at least Christopher Lee's Kharis was granted a mouth). Fred Clark's bombast proves just enough to maintain audience interest before the mayhem, and Carreras does provide one unique twist for the climax that doesn't quite raise the film from its routine origins.
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8/10
Karloff channels his 'inner Lugosi' as Bela portrays the compassionate scientist
25 July 2019
1936's "The Invisible Ray" was the third vehicle to team Karloff and Lugosi during the Laemmle era, following Poe titles "The Black Cat" and 'The Raven,' and by downplaying the tortures endured in those pictures for science fiction thrills hoped to assuage Hollywood bluenoses who despised the emerging horror genre (the connection does continue in making up Boris to look very Poe-like in curly wig and mustache). While most fans regard it as a lesser effort its higher budget and sense of wonder create a far different atmosphere, though things do kick off in familiar Gothic territory, the mountaintop abode of Dr. Janos Rukh (Karloff) the setting for a demonstration of events from eons ago to the astonishment of Dr. Felix Benet (Lugosi) and his skeptical colleagues. The Belgian is the world's foremost authority on astrochemistry from the University of Paris, and appears rather distant when meeting Rukh face to face, for Janos admits that his own theories are far in advance of those held by Benet. Rukh has invited Sir Francis Stevens (Walter Kingsford), his wife Lady Arabella (Beulah Bondi), and nephew Ronald Drake (Frank Lawton) to his laboratory to show them how an unknown element made its way from 'the nebula of Andromeda' to reach the African continent, the destination of the Stevens party. Rukh goes on ahead to locate the source of what he calls 'Radium X,' leaving behind his lovely wife Diana (Frances Drake) in the Stevens' care, while Benet continues his experiments on the local natives: "proof that the sun is the mother of us all!" Rukh eventually makes his discovery, but despite the protective clothing worn to prevent radiation poisoning he finds himself contaminated anyway, glowing in the dark but not noticeable under the light. One touch from his hand means instant death for his faithful Great Dane, and the sudden unexpected arrival of Diana forces him to reject her in the most brusque manner possible. Making his way to the main camp to seek out Benet, he provides a sample of the element and all his calculations, enabling the doctor to fashion a serum to counteract the poison, to be injected at regular intervals each day for the rest of his life. Rukh's prolonged absence gives Sir Francis Stevens the upper hand in revealing the discovery of 'Radium X' to the world of science, winning its discoverer the Nobel prize, but that is not enough for the increasingly maniacal Janos, becoming an avenging angel in Paris despite the protestations of Mother Rukh (Violet Kemble Cooper), whose blindness has now been cured by her son's genius: "your experiments are your friends, leave people alone." For once both stars come to a tragic end, yet the original script featured a compassionate Rukh gradually undone by the effects of the poisoning and the antidote (a nod to "The Invisible Man"), while Karloff channels his 'inner Lugosi' with a full throttle performance that demonstrates the character's obsessiveness from the start. It's really his first over the top portrayal for Universal, though he did allow such histrionics in the desert sands of John Ford's 1934 RKO release "The Lost Patrol," and at Fox in the upcoming "Charlie Chan at the Opera" (even Monogram's "The Ape" found him low key and close to the vest). By surprising contrast, Bela is cast against type as the benevolent humanitarian scientist, a part he could only receive opposite Boris, admirably restrained compared to his Dr. Vollin as he sets in motion one final devastating confrontation with his longtime rival ("and if he touches anyone?" "they die"). A supporting cast on loan from bigger studios results in making the top billed stars look even better, the script by John Colton ("WereWolf of London") again making an unfaithful wife the focal point in the fetching presence of Frances Drake, previously Peter Lorre's muse in the MGM classic "Mad Love."
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7/10
The star power of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing
24 July 2019
Tom Blakeley's Planet Film company scored a worldwide hit with 1966's "Island of Terror," starring Peter Cushing under the direction of Hammer veteran Terence Fisher, and hoped for similar results in adding Christopher Lee to the mix for "Night of the Big Heat." Alas it was not to be, for though the picture proved a decent enough watch it failed to cross the Atlantic until 1971 with a new title, "Island of the Burning Damned," with TV censors deciding to change that damned word to 'Doomed' (no such outrage for "Village of the Damned" or "Children of the Damned," let alone Hammer's Joseph Losey entry "These Are the Damned"). Maron Pictures was the short lived outfit that double billed it with Toho's "Godzilla's Revenge," a child's dream of Monster Island, inappropriately paired with the sweaty adult themes of "Big Heat," set on the British island of Fara in the dead of winter, suffering an inexplicable heat wave where the temperature continues to rise even after dark. Television and phone lines are also rendered useless, strange noises accompanying the interference. Most of the story remains indoors at the Swan Inn, where author Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen) and wife Frankie (Sarah Lawson, Allen's real life spouse) now reside far from the mainland, primarily to save his marriage from lusting temptress Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow). It is in fact Angela's unexpected arrival that precipitates the events that transpire as characters continue to perspire, such as Dr. Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing), a permanent resident at the pub it seems, keeping a watchful eye on everyone's drinking. By far the most inhospitable fellow is Christopher Lee's Godfrey Hanson, not so much an unfeeling man but a desperate scientist trying to gather evidence of the cause behind the intensifying heat, an invasion of aliens from another planet seeking out sources of energy to devour for their survival. Lee and Cushing are such consummate professionals that they ably convey the oppressive conditions and growing terror without showing the creatures until the final moments, and without knowing just who will survive the audience is thrown an occasional curve to surprise expectations. John Lymington's 1959 novel had been adapted as a 1960 BBC serial, its obvious origins only slightly embellished to flesh out the pub setting for more exteriors, filming in a freezing February under brutal conditions for the glycerin covered actors pretending to sweat, sucking on ice cubes to avoid their breath being seen. Kudos to Terence Fisher and his underrated cast for maintaining tension throughout under such limited means, not as good as "Island of Terror" but certainly no embarrassment.
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The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960 TV Movie)
4/10
Better than one would expect from director Phil Tucker
23 July 2019
Director Phil Tucker will always be associated with his 1953 3-D epic "Robot Monster," but after a number of lesser features he made one return to the science fiction genre with 1960's "The Cape Canaveral Monsters," a title that curiously remains in obscurity despite several weird touches provided by Tucker's screenwriting, bypassing theatrical distribution for television screenings in a sci/fi quartet with "The Monster of Piedras Blancas," "The Hideous Sun Demon" and "Flight of the Lost Balloon," all independent productions. Invaders from another world in our solar system are eager to prevent Earth from launching any rockets that might reveal the truth about them, so two alien scientists are dispatched to carve out a cave in the hillside near Florida's Cape Canaveral to set in motion long term sabotage. Originally represented by two dots of light, the creatures engineer the demise of a husband and wife, the man's arm torn off by the force of the car crash, the woman Nadja (Katherine Victor) left with facial scars from a collision with the bloody windshield. Her companion Hauron (Jason Johnson) is naturally eager to find a suitable replacement for his tattered arm, particularly after guard dogs at Cape Canaveral finally rip it off for examination. Another curious notion finds the decomposing invaders retiring for a little off screen canoodling, so it's no wonder that they scour Lover's Lane for mostly female subjects to transmit back to their home planet. One such couple is Tom Wright (Scott Peters) and Sally Markham (Linda Connell), noting strange interference on an illegal radio frequency, enough to lead them to the Bronson Cavern hideaway and the discovery of the space saboteurs. For all its endless talk it remains curiously watchable, not as jaw droppingly bad as the $16,000 "Robot Monster," rather a marked improvement in its uncommon gruesomeness on what may have been a smaller budget, its possession of the deceased prefiguring "Night of the Living Dead," like "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or "Invisible Invaders." The cast is mostly comprised of amateurs, although Jason Johnson played bits in "Invasion of the Saucer Men" (another Lover's Lane highlight) and "The Lost Missile," top billed Scott Peters hardly carving out a name for himself in AIP efforts such as "Invasion of the Saucer Men," "The Amazing Colossal Man," "Attack of the Puppet People" and "Panic in Year Zero!" plus "They Saved Hitler's Brain." Cinematographer W. Merle Connell had previously directed 1952's rarely screened "Untamed Women," but his finest contribution to this minor film was the starring role portrayed by his pretty daughter Linda, whose fresh faced presence makes up for many dull stretches opposite her colorless leading man (Lover's Lane was never more dangerous!). The most familiar face belongs to Katherine Victor, whose long association with huckster filmmaker Jerry Warren extended from 1957's "Teenage Zombies" all the way to 1981's "Frankenstein Island," sinking her teeth into this role for all its worth, a memorable performance under the circumstances.
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Black Friday (1940)
7/10
One cannot fault Stanley Ridges for an admittedly scene stealing effort
21 July 2019
Things had changed since the Laemmles lost their Universal empire in 1936, and with 1940's "Black Friday" the gruesome twosome of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff bid farewell to their home studio, RKO welcoming them on two final occasions for 1940's Kay Kyser spoof "You'll Find Out" and 1945's Val Lewton chiller "The Body Snatcher." The gestation of "Friday the 13th" began around the same time as "The Man in the Cab" (recast with Lionel Atwill and Lon Chaney as "Man Made Monster"), and with German émigré Curt Siodmak aboard it's no wonder that a brain transplant would be central to the plot, "Donovan's Brain" only three years away as his first novel, followed by its sequel "Hauder's Memory." Truth be told neither actor would be seen to best advantage, Lugosi's original role of Dr. Ernest Sovac, refugee surgeon from an unnamed European nation, forced to live anonymously in a small New York community, finally went to Karloff, while best friend George Kingsley, typical absent minded 'professor of English literature,' who becomes an unwitting victim of Sovac's overzealous mania and irredeemable greed, was assigned to character player Stanley Ridges, easily overshadowing his higher billed, better paid costars. When rival gangsters Red Cannon and Eric Marnay extend their longstanding feud over Cannon's hidden cache of $500,000 into 'the sticks,' Marnay's gang forcing Cannon to plow into Kingsley as he crosses the street, Sovac's closest colleague lies dying in a hospital bed in a coma. Cannon feels no sympathy for a 'softie,' but has paid a heavy price in suffering a spinal fracture, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Imploring Sovac to save him, the surgeon decides on a drastic and illegal operation to rescue his friend from certain death by using part of Red Cannon's brain in a daring transplant that has never been achieved before. This of course does not improve morale for the now deceased Cannon, who had 'only the electric chair to live for,' and after reading about the hood's missing half million Sovac again throws caution to the wind in regard to Kingsley's recovery, persuading him to take a trip to the big city where Cannon used to hide out at the Midtown Hotel, courting gorgeous chanteuse Sunny Rogers (Anne Nagel). From his formerly mild mannered demeanor, George now suffers sudden short tempered moods, and once he finds himself staying in Cannon's corner suite with fire escape the dormant half of his brain begins to assert itself. Ridges ably conveys the professor's torment and marks his transformation into a vicious hoodlum with virtually no makeup, only slicked back hair and sharp tones. Setting him off is the sight of one of Marnay's gang members, Sovac reading of a brutal beating the night before, and blood on the unsuspecting Kingsley's hands. After a second murder the new Cannon even guns down two detectives, escaping with a bullet wound in the shoulder which Sovac must patch up; this is where 'Cannon' becomes aware of the doctor's knowledge of his hidden loot, but in Karloff's most effective scene he reasserts his dominance over Kingsley, who fears becoming the small town professor for the rest of his life. Though he agrees to recover the money he decides instead to take Sunny to South America, but is betrayed by her loyalty to Eric Marnay's shrinking mob. By morning all of Cannon's enemies are dead, his money safely in Sovac's possession, and George Kingsley once again his soft spoken, warm hearted self, but for how long? Stanley Ridges excels in the Jekyll/Hyde part originally earmarked for Karloff, while 'poor Bela' is afforded little more than an extended cameo as Marnay, one brief sequence early on, then not seen again until after the midway point (he was coming off a similar colorless gangster in RKO's "The Saint's Double Trouble"). In splitting up the Karloff/Lugosi team Universal sabotaged any chemistry the stars could have enjoyed, leaving us to wonder how the pair might have fared in "Man Made Monster." It's still an exciting melodrama with science fiction overtones, a great deal of fun to watch on a Saturday night, marking the genre debut for Anne Gwynne as Karloff's ingenue daughter. Director Arthur Lubin only did two more horror efforts, 1943's "Phantom of the Opera" and 1946's "The Spider Woman Strikes Back," a longtime specialist in comedy working with Abbott and Costello, Francis the Talking Mule, and eventually the hit TV series MISTER ED. Understandable overshadowed by Ridges' Red Cannon transformation, Karloff would continue his current string of mad scientists at Columbia and Monogram ("The Ape") until Broadway beckoned with ''Arsenic and Old Lace, while Lugosi labored in minor roles for Universal into 1942, earning star vehicles at Poverty Row outfits PRC ("The Devil Bat") and Monogram.
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The Raven (1935)
7/10
LUGOSI in full throttle, KARLOFF in support
19 July 2019
Of the eight titles in which both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi appeared this was the only one that enabled Bela to portray the dominant role, and only at Universal did he have all the resources to pull out all the stops in a full throttle portrayal as the star, bolstered by Karloff's unique presence in support, under a most unusual Jack Pierce makeup. LUGOSI's Dr. Richard Vollin has retired from surgery to care for his secret hideaway of items based upon the works of his great obsession, Edgar Allan Poe. While he regales an interested visitor on his 'curious hobby' he receives an urgent call from Judge Thatcher (Samuel S. Hinds) as the only hope to save the life of his daughter Jean (Irene Ware), the victim of an automobile accident. Only after Dr. Jerry Halden (Lester Matthews) and his associates sing his praises does the surgeon accept the challenge, and soon the grateful Jean not only dances for his pleasure but enjoys an organ recital in his home. Judge Thatcher has taken note of her infatuation with the doctor who saved her life and gently tries to discourage his fervent attentions by reminding him of her engagement to Dr. Halden. This is enough to push Vollin over the edge, at which time he receives an unexpected visit from San Quentin escapee Edmond Bateman (KARLOFF), hoping to elude the police if the doctor is willing to 'change' his face. Vollin proves difficult to convince (a complete lack of interest in money), until a chance remark from Bateman intrigues him to perform the operation: "if a man is ugly he does ugly things..." Ten minutes is all he needs to sever certain cranial nerves, transforming Bateman's countenance into a nightmare, one half alive and functioning, the other essentially dead tissue frozen in place, his right eye unmoving and staring. Vollin easily convinces his partner in crime to carry out his orders or remain a hideous monster, now involving a household of guests to receive special attention, in particular Judge Thatcher, his daughter and her oblivious fiancée. Vollin's tour of his torture dungeon comes next, devices all in perfect working order, demonstrating the swinging pendulum himself while Bateman's lone working eye moves in unison with the descending blade. As the evening progresses Vollin's madness grows more and more apparent, each successive trap allowing him to rejoice in his triumph and remove the torment inside to confirm Poe's vengeance. Not an exercise in style like the previous year's "The Black Cat," nor an attempt at toning down torture with early science fiction like next year's "The Invisible Ray," "The Raven" is regarded as the neglected middle child, proceeding at a rapid pace courtesy director Louis Friedlander, better known as Lew Landers, later to helm Columbia vehicles for Karloff ("The Boogie Man Will Get You") and Lugosi ("The Return of the Vampire"), his final film "Terrified" a posthumous release.
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8/10
One of the lucky 13 from Avco Embassy
18 July 2019
1973's "Bell from Hell" was included in Avco Embassy's Nightmare Theater television package of the mid 70s, earning plaudits for its arthouse ambitions and deliberately paced storyline of greed and lust. This French-Spanish coproduction stars Renaud Verley as John, newly paroled from a private institution, placed there by his overly repressed Aunt Marta (Viveca Lindfors) for the same free spirited attitude he inherited from his beloved mother, sadly driven to suicide by her domineering elder sibling. John's relations with Marta's three lovely daughters are also cause for concern: Esther (Maribel Martin), the youngest, also exhibits the same carefree joie de vivre that her mother despises; Teresa (Nuria Gimeno), the eldest, is guilty of falsely accusing John of attempted rape to ensure his conviction; and Maria (Christine Betzner), who has actually engaged in sexual games with her cousin and wants more despite her imminent marriage to a man of wealth. John also learns that his attractive neighbor (Nicole Vesperini) chose not to wait for his release, now wed to contractor Don Pedro (Alfredo Mayo), currently engaged in the installation of a new bell for the local church. John's first encounter is with a portentous shepherd living in the woods, his young mute daughter (Rosetta Vellisca) just entering puberty, later rescued by John from Don Pedro's molestations. Adding to the perversion is a brief but unsettling sequence (wisely cut from all TV prints) depicting John's one day of employment in a slaughterhouse, and its brutal mutilations of cattle for eventual produce on the dinner table. John returns to his mother's home and restores it to vibrant life with a menagerie of animals as company, quickly putting plans in place to avenge himself on his wicked aunt (she holds power of attorney over his inheritance) and all three cousins. A series of bewildering pranks keep the on screen characters constantly off balance, yet John never loses audience sympathy, particularly when a change of heart results in his own incarceration and certain death at the peal of the newly installed tower bell. Ultimately a mood piece depicting the unhealthy obsessions that engulf an entire community, with John serving as both catalyst and sacrificial lamb, a longtime late night favorite that continues to enthrall patient viewers in its unceasing spell.
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3/10
The Dirty Dozen
17 July 2019
Looking decidedly limp next to its colorful cofeature, Toho's "Battle in Outer Space," Columbia's 1959 "12 to the Moon" was shot independently in just 8 days on a budget of $150,000, from producer Fred Gebhardt, responsible for "The Phantom Planet" two years later (using two actors from this film, Francis X. Bushman and Anthony Dexter). Scientists from a dozen different nations form an international expedition to the moon aboard the Lunar Eagle 1, taking off at 9 minutes, reaching their destination at 24 minutes (mostly concerned with meteor showers along the way). The lunar surface provides the film's most elaborate set, dodging small fissures, finding gold, two people going missing after a tender moment in a cave, another falling victim to quicksand. The nine survivors receive cryptic messages in hieroglyphics from the citizens of the Moon, lifting off for home at 51 minutes, only to dodge more meteors before finding North America encased in an icy prison, all the inhabitants in a state of suspended animation. For all its tediously sober moments early on, the picture descends into juvenile fantasy by its conclusion, the Moon men enjoying a change of heart to welcome all future expeditions. The main screenwriter is DeWitt Bodeen, virtually at the end of his career, quite a surprise considering his pedigree (Val Lewton's "Cat People" and "The Seventh Victim" both featuring Tom Conway), while director David Bradley sadly earned raspberries for his mishandling of 1963's "The Madmen of Mandoras," later reworked into the even worse "They Saved Hitler's Brain," undoubtedly a head of its time! Tom Conway's casting as the Russian seemed rather appropriate as he and younger brother George Sanders were actually born in St. Petersburg, and stalwart Ken Clark ("Attack of the Giant Leeches") is the American captain (the only other recognizable veteran is John Wengraf). A movie not well thought out and certainly not well remembered.
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7/10
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1966
13 July 2019
The stuff of childhood nightmares, 1953's "Invaders from Mars" proved far more valuable than just a minor footnote shot at Republic (picked up for distribution by Fox), as maverick production designer William Cameron Menzies ("Chandu the Magician," "Gone with the Wind") doubled as director, and a fine cast of familiar faces put forth a tale of terror through the eyes of a preteen astrologer. Jimmy Hunt's David MacLean is awakened during the night by a curious humming sound, witnessing a spaceship disappear into a sandpit in back of his house, conveniently covering itself up to avoid detection. His father George (Leif Erickson) works at a secret government facility and must investigate anything peculiar, vanishing in the sand before two policemen arrive and promptly follow suit. All three mysteriously turn up later, George now a distant stranger rather than the loving parent from before, and the cops refusing to do their duty and report the disappearance. David then spies a neighbor, Kathy Wilson (Janine Perreau), dropping from sight and informs her worried mother, only for the child to suddenly reappear and cause a fire to burn down her own home (her father, also a government worker, the intended target). The now frantic David is the one witness able to identify those afflicted by a small mark in the back of the neck, with the police chief (Bert Freed) and even General Mayberry (William Forrest) falling victim to the unseen invaders. Luckily the boy has two allies in fellow astronomer Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz) and psychologist Dr. Pat Blake (Helena Carter), especially since both his parents have become mindless assassins awaiting orders to target certain individuals and sabotage all local areas involving space exploration (it does stretch credulity when Morris Ankrum's Colonel Fielding accepts the outlandish theory straight away). The human drama eventually takes a back seat to the military setup, leading to the final reel discovery of the Martian ship and its disembodied brain working with humanoid robot workers; the finale restores the dramatic intensity of the film's first half, though the British print features additional footage and an entirely different ending. By the 1980s a Tobe Hooper remake was earmarked for Karen Black, casting Jimmy Hunt as the possessed police chief, but in the era of cable and video tapes it just can't compare to the quality of 50s paranoia, essentially a child's version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The lack of detail in the sets not only make them more psychologically effective they were undoubtedly cheaper to be built, and Menzies continuously works wonders on his modest budget (he went on to direct only one more film, "The Maze," in 3D). Morris Ankrum is fortunately spared from playing villain ("Flight to Mars," "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers"), and former Universal regular Milburn Stone was just two years away from his long running landmark Western GUNSMOKE, playing the amiable hard working Doc. Special mention must go to Leif Erickson and Hillary Brooke as David's parents, as warm and loving as one would expect them to be, until Martian possession make them a pair of traitorous murderers. George Pal's "The War of the Worlds" and Universal's "It Came from Outer Space" may have preceded this particular invasion but it still ranks near the top of that vivid and popular subgenre.
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8/10
First seen on Pittsburgh's Chiller Theater in 1966
10 July 2019
Universal's 1943 "Son of Dracula" was only their third Dracula entry, the last before the monster rallies that followed ("House of Frankenstein," "House of Dracula," "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"), and the only time that 6'3 Lon Chaney essayed the role following previous vehicles as The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, and The Mummy (no relation to the best forgotten "Son of Dracula" produced by Ringo Starr in 1972). The studio's 'Master Character Creator' has not enjoyed many kudos over the years as Count Alucard, lacking the mystique of Bela Lugosi or the mesmerizing Shakespearean tones of John Carradine's Baron Latos; what he does have is unquestioned menace, far more than either Lugosi or Carradine, his supernatural strength a clear precursor to Christopher Lee's more imposing version. The Louisiana plantation of Dark Oaks is the ancestral home of Colonel Caldwell (George Irving) and his lovely daughters, blonde Claire (Evelyn Ankers) and brunette Katherine (Louise Allbritton), the latter in love with childhood sweetheart Frank Stanley (Robert Paige). Katherine (Kay to her friends) anxiously awaits the imminent arrival of Count Alucard, whom she first became acquainted with in Budapest, revealing her fascination with death and the supernatural; a brief visit to Madame Zimba (Adeline DeWalt Reynolds) results in the film's first fatality, brought on by the sight of a fearsome bat, but only after predicting Kay's marriage to a corpse. The Count views the celebration from a distance, preying upon the elderly Colonel Caldwell before making a formal announcement in the wake of his demise, enough to frighten away all the servants. All cash and securities go to Claire, Dark Oaks becoming Kay's sole property, something that puzzles Doctor Harry Brewster (Frank Craven), who calls in occult expert Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg) to aid in his investigation of the mysterious Count. Under cover of night the swamp reveals a hidden coffin rising to the water's surface, the Count emerging magnificently as 'a swirling cloud of vapor,' Alucard floating toward his intended bride, he and Kay calling upon a Justice of the Peace (Robert Dudley) to join them together in (un)holy wedlock. This does not sit well with a jealous Frank Stanley, whose confrontation with the superhuman Alucard ends at the barrel of a pistol, the shots having no effect on the angry Count but killing Kay standing directly behind him. Stanley flees into the night, saved from the vampire's wrath only by a nearby crucifix, arriving at Doctor Brewster's with a tale of killing Kay before confessing to the sheriff. Brewster shows up at Dark Oaks as Alucard prepares Kay's grave, forced to change his plans and confront the trespasser in the cellar. With the Colonel deceased and himself now wed to Kay, the Count pronounces himself master of Dark Oaks, demanding an explanation for Brewster's intrusion. Most stunning of all is seeing the obviously undead Kay propped up in her marital boudoir, expressing her sorrow for Frank, and insisting that from now on all transactions take place during evening hours as she will be assisting in her husband's research until after sundown. Frank is asked to recreate the previous night's activities, finding Kay's corpse lying in the crypt to the bewilderment of Doctor Brewster, but none of this is a surprise to Lazlo, as the spread of vampirism begins with an attack on a small boy by the bloodthirsty Count. This Dracula seethes with barely suppressed rage, Chaney holding his own against actor/playwright Frank Craven, but there are just too many enemies to overcome, Universal's Chaney and Carradine vehicles assuring a weaker Count with the hiding place of his coffin easy pickings for his opposition. As fearsome as he presents himself, the Lonster is sadly undone by a woman's chicanery, hard to imagine a Dracula seduced and abandoned by someone seeking immortality at his expense, but he remains too deadly to be played for a fool. His 12 minutes screen time is parsed evenly throughout the film's first two thirds, and his demise proves a real eye opener, coffin ablaze with no way to extinguish it, and no escape from the sun's merciless rays, reducing the Count to a skeleton bearing the Dracula ring (superior to both of Carradine's similar exits). More relentlessly downbeat than the usual Universal horror fare, perhaps a nod to Val Lewton's RKO unit, but still sporting the same superb visuals that cinematographer George Robinson was noted for (1931's Spanish "Dracula" and the sequel "Dracula's Daughter" among his previous triumphs). Like Chaney, Louise Allbritton similarly comes under fire for her detached performance as Kay, a role that often left the actress in tears, but considering her lack of chemistry with Lon still puts forth a commendable effort in a role that would defeat most actresses. Evelyn Ankers offers solid support and even J. Edward Bromberg easily braves the usual vampire folklore, made up to look like Edward Van Sloan's Van Helsing with phony accent. The essential leads are Frank Craven and Robert Paige, the latter in a very different kind of role, in love since childhood with the morbid Katherine but determined to free her soul rather than live together under the eternal spell of Dracula's unholy alliance. Now having taken on all the classic starring horror roles originated by Universal, Lon Chaney would turn to other genres before repeat appearances as The Wolf Man and The Mummy, the Inner Sanctum series just on the horizon.
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3/10
Rock around the rock pile
4 July 2019
1951's "Lost Continent" was a Robert Lippert production with an exceptionally able cast for such a Poverty Row venture. Utilizing stock footage from the previous year's "Rocketship X-M," we're treated to a runaway missile that goes down somewhere in the South Pacific, and a party of six recruited to locate it under top secret orders (taking off at the 13 minute mark). When excess radiation forces the plane into a crash landing on a small island the group meet up with Acquanetta's native girl (at 26 minutes), who directs them to a forbidden mountain from which no one has returned. The long climb lasts until the 47 minute mark, poison gas forcing a change in direction, the film stock now tinted green for a different look. Here we get some animated dinosaurs courtesy of an uncredited Edward Nassour ("The Beast of Hollow Mountain"), adding a touch of gore as the creatures bleed from their various wounds. Only in the final reel is the rocket finally found, its contents recovered, the whole mountain crumbling into the sea as four survivors paddle off to safety. Uneventful is one word to describe the interminable studio trek, Sid Melton the obligatory comic relief, coming to a similar end as Noah Beery's sidekick in "Rocketship X-M." Literally carrying the proceedings are Cesar Romero (Lippert's next item "The Jungle" soon to follow), Chick Chandler, Hugh Beaumont, and a sympathetic Whit Bissell, making his sci fi debut. As a Russian scientist under suspicion, John Hoyt adds a little gravitas to a stock role, as does Cesar Romero, leading the way as the ladies man pilot (second billed Hillary Brooke is dispensed with after one scene, just like Acquanetta). Borrowing the premise from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World," Lippert's producer and director were brothers Sigmund Neufeld and Sam Newfield, the main filmmakers for the now defunct Producers Releasing Corporation, who proved so prolific that nearly 300 films resulted from their collaboration (of Lon Chaney's 39 episodes of HAWKEYE AND THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS Sam directed all but the pilot). About the same as your typical PRC fare, on a shooting schedule lasting 11 days, which also seems like an eternity for the hapless viewer, far less entertaining than Hammer's 1968 "The Lost Continent," adapted from Dennis Wheatley's "Uncharted Waters."
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